Irrefutible Rules of Executive Media Training

If business and political leaders committed to listening to their media specialists before talking to the press, their interview success rate would be through the roof.  The journalist would be on the receiving end of a better interview delivered by an informed and articulate content provider (aka, the spokesperson); the spokesperson will have delivered key messages in a concise, coherent and clear manner; and, the media specialist would have one less fire to extinguish.

Yet, we see time-after-time leaders putting a foot in their mouth because they did not properly prepare for a planned media engagement.  There’s no room for an undisciplined, shooting-from-the-hip approach to talking with the media.  Just ask BP’s ex-CEO Tony “I’d like my life back” Hayward, ex-GOP presidential and vice-presidential candidates Herman Cain and Sarah Palin.  And compare their performances to former President Ronald Reagan, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, among others.

Part of a media specialist’s challenge is convincing the boss that he/she actually needs media training.  Executive ego often gets in the way of skills assessment, as we know.  “Media training?  I have been talking with the media for years.  I don’t have time for media training,” is a familiar refrain for senior leaders.

In my experience, executive spokespeople almost always think they’ve done a great job following a phone or in-person interview with a journalist.  The reality is, the better interviewee has always been the one who committed to preparation (and listened to their media specialist!).

Media training doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Execs liken it to going to the dentist (no offense to the DMDs out there), especially the part where they are captured on video in a mock interview (which is an absolute must).  But navigating your spokesperson through a few straightforward guidelines will successfully get the boss through myriad media engagements.  Here are a few key ones:

  • Know your story – the spokesperson must have an agenda that includes the communication of 2-3 key messages which need to internalized in advance and supported with specific data and examples.  Each question is an opportunity to deliver — concisely, coherently and clearly — a key message.
  • What works with the media – responsiveness, modesty, straight talk, knowledge of their media outlet (target audience), an educational tone, a sense of humor, being genuine and honest,  and a personal approach.
  • What doesn’t work – jargon, too much ego, over-talking and steam-rolling, trashing other organizations.
  • Preparing for the interview – review the media outlet, be certain of  facts, be bold, get to the heart of the matter with an opening summary (key messages), think in headlines and sound bites, focus, close with key messages.
  • Avoid the “off the record” trap — instead, try something like, “You know, that’s not something I’m at liberty to discuss, but what I am here to talk about is …
  • Remember, you’re in control – use every question as an opportunity to tell your story/bridge to your messages, be prepared with key message detail to back up your story if challenged, and project confidence.  You’re the expert.

A successful media engagement is never about luck.  It’s always about preparation.

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2 Responses to Irrefutible Rules of Executive Media Training

  1. Hal Hart says:

    Jim gives you excellent advice, tips I used in my 20 years teaching spokesperson training. I might add two more suggestions: videotaping mock interviews is a must so the executive(s) can see what they look like and say (they can’t deny saying it), and beware of telephone interviews with media (I’m more comfortable behind my desk) and more apt to give away the store because the exec feels he/she is in a “safe environment.” Wrong perception. Great, Jim!

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